The Organic Center named as partner in four major USDA OREI research grants

Center awarded nearly $900,000 to collaborate in critical organic projects

Washington, D.C. (September 28, 2023) — The Organic Center is thrilled to announce it is the recipient of almost $900,000 in federal funds through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) research program. The funds will enable The Organic Center to collaborate in four new important OREI research grant projects.  

The projects announced this week by USDA will address a host of vital and diverse challenges facing today’s organic agriculture, including how to ensure food safety in organic production systems; the exploration of organic farming methods that increase resilience to climate change and also help fight pests; the benefits and challenges of livestock grazing in orchards; and ways to expand organic cotton production in the United States.  

USDA awarded a total of more than $50 million in grants for 24 OREI projects and for 8 Organic Transitions Program (ORG) projects. ORG helps existing and transitioning organic livestock and crop producers adopt organic practices. 

The OREI awards totaled a little over $43 million in funding. OREI helps support wide-ranging research projects that specifically address the most critical issues impacting organic growers. The 2018 Farm Bill approved increasing funding for OREI to $50 million per year by 2023, thus establishing permanent funding for the program. 

“Our mission is to strengthen and advance organic farming through science-based research, and this unprecedented level of funding from USDA will do much to help us achieve our goal,” said Dr. Amber Sciligo, Director of Science Programs for The Organic Center (TOC). “We are extremely honored to be partnering with esteemed research institutions, universities, and non-profits in these projects, and to support the growth, expansion and continued improvement of organic.” 

What the projects are: 

Developing Risk-assessment, Educational, and Communication Tools to Lower Food Safety Barriers for Organic Specialty Crop Growers.

Food safety is of paramount importance for every organic grower, but organic producers face unique challenges in trying to meet both National Organic Program standards and multiple food safety requirements. The Center’s biggest single award of almost $635,000 is for collaboration in a project led by the University of Rhode Island to equip organic growers and industry stakeholders – organic technical assistance/trainers/certifiers and food safety auditors/inspectors – with science-based tools and training to enable them to comply simultaneously with organic agriculture rules and food safety requirements. A key function of The Organic Center will be to host 10 regional, in-person workshops with farmers, organic inspectors and certifiers and food safety auditors and inspectors to help the organic experts understand the biggest food safety rules challenges and to educate the food safety specialists on organic practices, particularly those that may conflict with food safety rules.  

Expanding Resilient Climate and Pest Protection Systems for Diversified Organic Specialty Crop Producers.  

Dealing with insect pests, weeds and severe weather are challenges for every farmer, and even more so for organic producers who do not use chemical pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers. Organic vegetable growers are especially susceptible to invasive insects and weeds and the vagaries of today’s climate. The Organic Center has been awarded $101,000 to work with the University of Kentucky and the non-profit organization Organic Voices to help advance the awareness and most effective use of mesotunnel protection systems – fine-mesh netting barriers secured over specialty crops – that have been proven to provide a dual purpose protection system for organic vegetable producers, including small-scale farmers, homesteaders, and gardeners.  

Influence of Orchard Grazing on Soil Health and Pest Control While Mitigating Food Safety Risk.  

The benefits of grazing sheep or other livestock to help convert cover crops to manure are becoming more well known, and interest in grazing livestock on cover crops in nut orchards has shown a steady increase in recent years. However, there are concerns about food-borne pathogens and food safety with this practice. The Organic Center, with a $75,000 award, will collaborate with the University of California at Davis to help design and coordinate an integrated research-extension approach to assess the benefits of livestock grazing on cover crops on bacterial populations, soil health, pest control and economic outcomes, with the goal to enhance the value of cover crops while limiting food safety risks in organic orchards in two distinct nut orchard regions in California. 

Expanding Organic Cotton Production in the US Cotton Belt Through Research and Outreach on Organic, Regenerative Practices.  

The organic cotton sector in the U.S. is currently a $2 billion industry and is poised for rapid growth, fueled by consumer demands and growing interest among leading textile industry players to include organic cotton in their product portfolios. But organic cotton acreage in the United States remains small, and the need to increase domestic cotton production is critical. The Organic Center has been awarded almost $60,000 to work with Texas A&M University to help implement a coordinated research, extension and education program to promote and expand organic cotton production in the U.S. Cotton Belt. 

“The OREI program provides the most important pool of funds to advance our work at The Organic Center,” said The Organic Center’s Sciligo. “While this pot of funding has seen tremendous growth through the implementation of the last farm bill, future bills need to continue to increase the funding dedicated to organic research. We have come a long way in the past few decades, but with the increased demand for organic in the marketplace and the initiation of several USDA programs aimed at significantly increasing organic transition, the need for current organic research is unprecedented.”   


About The Organic Center
 The Organic Center's mission is to convene credible, evidence-based science on the health and environmental impacts of organic food and farming and to communicate the findings to the public. The Center is an independent non-profit 501(c)(3) research and education organization operating under the administrative auspices of the Organic Trade Association.